Four years is an epoch in Sarah Vaillancourt’s life.
It’s about 6,000 hours of workouts and hockey practices. It’s the difference between being a young Quebecois phenom and a Harvard team captain with a Patty Kazmaier award. And it’s the length of time between winning gold in Turin as a rookie and heading into Vancouver 2010 with a bigger role to play on Team Canada.
“In 2006 I was the second youngest on the team with no Olympic experience. I was on the ‘kid line’ and so proud to be there. I didn’t have the maturity or physical strength to be part of the power play or penalty kill,” says Vaillancourt. “I know I’ve changed and I can take on more in 2010.”
That may seem like a short period of time to go from being a rookie to a leader. But when your core traits are intensity and drive, a lot can change in a short period of time.
For instance, when Vaillancourt started playing hockey in her Sherbrooke, Quebec minor league at the tender age of five, she was moved up age divisions almost immediately because she was skating circles around the boys. And at only 15, she made Team Quebec and brought home a silver medal. When she was 18 years old, she barely spoke English, but only two years later she was pulling off straight A’s as a Harvard student, despite missing classes for weeks at a time while she played with Team Canada.
But the desire to play hockey and play it well has always been the overwhelming force in Vaillancourt’s life.
“When I was eight years old, I would make up dryland workouts for myself that I thought would improve my game. Whether it was on the driveway, in the garage or on a tiny pond at my cottage, it was always hockey. I just wanted to get better,” says Vaillancourt.
That hasn’t changed. Vaillancourt says that these days, the main role of her personal trainer is to stop her from pushing herself too hard in workouts.
Speaking of pushing hard, what does Vaillancourt think it’s going to take to win gold in Vancouver?
“Even more work than 2006. It’s more than working hard. It’s almost killing yourself out there. But I’m really confident in our team.”
Vaillancourt seems to have no trouble with confidence. Her confidence is the kind that’s given her the ability to captain boys’ teams and perform at a higher level than most athletes in the same age group. She won’t tell me her best move, but she hints that it involves a toe drag. She cites as her strengths the ability to see the ice, use all her players and know where to go when she doesn’t have the puck.
She says that better positioning is how to take your game to the next level, whether you’re playing at an elite level or playing in a beer league. Her advice is that when you watch hockey on TV, really watch it. Examine breakouts and regroups and what the players are doing when they don’t have the puck. When rec players know where to be, it makes the game more fun.
Vaillancourt doesn’t feel like a celebrity but she does like that Team Canada is famous — famous for winning. While she’s not in it for the star power, she wishes women’s hockey was better known and appreciated.
“We work just as hard as male athletes. Sure we don’t have men’s strength and our game is different from the men’s, but people don’t take the time to appreciate the difference. It comes down to a lack of hockey knowledge,” she says.
“But my million-dollar contract is that I can use what I’ve accomplished to inspire people. To go to elementary schools and influence kids in a positive way is very special.”
Photo credit: http://www.hockeycanada.ca